The First Thanksgiving
November 22, 2022 | By Mallory Ambrose
Thanksgiving: a holiday filled with family, friends, flavorful foods and of course, alcohol.
As we begin to prepare for the harvest holiday of Thanksgiving you can almost taste the seasonal dishes you’ve been waiting for all year. Today Thanksgiving is celebrated in many different ways.
Some begin their turkey day snuggled up on the couch ready to watch the magic of the annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, others join their pals around the table at Friendsgiving events, but let us jump into the nostalgia of this holiday and take a look at where it all began, Plymouth Rock.
The Question at Large
To add some history to your 2022 meal, in 1621 following a 66-day journey on the Mayflower, the Pilgrims landed in Plymouth, Massachusetts. It was here where they celebrated the first Thanksgiving feast that we have come to love and celebrate annually. With only two contemporary accounts of the first Thanksgiving meal having been documented, the question at large still remains: What did the Pilgrims drink at the original Thanksgiving dinner?
So, what did they drink?
In the early 17th century, sanitary practices made clean drinking water hard to come by, so to the Pilgrims, beverages like beer, wine, cider, and spirits with bacteria-killing alcohol levels were the safer choice.
There was no access to a bold bottle of vintage Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon to celebrate the joyous occasion, there wasn’t even a Napa Valley. However, the Pilgrims were no stranger to brewing a refreshing beer.
It is assumed by several historians that in the development of the Plymouth Colony and failure of early farming crops like barley, the Pilgrims discovered the fermentable sugars found in the pumpkins that surrounded them. No, they did not enjoy a crisp pumpkin ale, instead they used the sugars to act as malts in the brewing process.
Following in this vein, the Pilgrims used crab apples that grew wild along the Cape to create yet another popular fall libation we enjoy today, hard cider.
The Pilgrims Were Thanksgiving Trend Setters
The Pilgrims did not enjoy wine at this infamous feast but instead, fermented apple juice, or what we now know as hard cider, and pumpkin beer. Here we are 400 years later, and these fall beverages are a seasonal favorite of the modern day.
The autumn harvest flavors that swirl within a pumpkin beer and the dry sweetness of hard cider boast the perfect complement to a rich Thanksgiving meal. The Pilgrims may not have enjoyed what we would like to believe is the typical Thanksgiving dinner complete with a steaming turkey and cranberry sauce, but they did sip on beer and cider in 1621 at the original Thanksgiving feast, and for that we are thankful.
Grimm, Lisa. “Beer Myth busting: The Truth About Pilgrims, Adjuncts, and Prohibition.” Serious Eats, 9 Aug. 2018, https://www.seriouseats.com/beer-myths-corn-pilgrims-first-beer-thanksgiving-lager-prohibition-history.
Heil, Emily. “The Pilgrims liked beer, but probably were not drunk on it at the first thanksgiving.” The Washington Post, 23 Nov. 2021, https://www.washingtonpost.com/food/2021/11/23/pilgrims-first-thanksgiving-beer/.
Krulwich, Robert. “First Thanksgiving Dinner: No Turkeys. No Ladies. No Pies.” NPR, 23 Nov. 2011, https://www.npr.org/sections/krulwich/2010/11/22/131516586/who-brought-the-turkey-the-truth-about-the-first-thanksgiving.
Petro, Brian. “Washing Down the First Thanksgiving.” The Alcohol Professor, 21 Nov. 2016, https://www.alcoholprofessor.com/blog-posts/blog/2016/11/21/washing-down-the-first-thanksgiving.